Encouraging Victims: Responding to a Recent Study of Battered Women Who Commit Crimes

Andrea L. Dennis, University of Georgia School of Law

Originally uploaded at SSRN.


Over many decades, domestic violence statistics have consistently revealed that women from a wide variety of backgrounds are victimized, though the rate of victimization varies depending on a woman’s particular characteristics. Despite this consistency, past and present approaches to domestic violence have failed to attend to the diverse realities of victims. Advocates and researchers first devoted their efforts toward conveying the message that while any woman could potentially become a victim of domestic violence, no woman should become a victim. They then focused on creating laws and policies granting victims greater access to the legal system and making the justice system less intimidating to victims. Legal scholars, however, have argued that not all victims have felt successes in these areas uniformly. Part I of this Article recounts the evolution of social services and legal remedies for domestic violence. Over time, society has shifted from nonintervention to private, community-based intervention and finally to an interrelated, comprehensive framework of public legal remedies. Part II begins with a review of previous research on victim non-reporting of domestic violence by describing reporting statistics and motivations underlying the failure of victims to complain and next reviews prior research on the connection between intimate partner victimization and criminal behavior. Part II then describes the methodology and results of the recently published qualitative study of battered women revealing how their criminal backgrounds dissuade them from reaching out to publicly available remedies. Part III offers measures to address the concerns raised in Part II. Over the last several decades, advocates and scholars addressing domestic violence have worked continuously to improve outcomes for victims of intimate partner violence who pursue relief through the justice and social services systems. While the present-day solutions have helped many victims and are a critical improvement over the past, they have proven to have their limits. Thus, Part III begins by joining earlier calls for the adoption of reforms that firm up existing helpful measures and repeal of ineffectual mechanisms and rules. Part III concludes by offering a new proposal targeted toward women who both suffer violence and have a criminal history: victim immunity from arrest and prosecution when reporting domestic violence.